Machines and wires abound in the pediatric ICU so that even a simple task like making the bed becomes more difficult. When a child is on a ventilator, nearly every one-person job becomes challenging enough for two. I couldn’t change AJ’s diaper on my own, for fear that the breathing tube would be displaced. Often, our nurse would ask a fellow staff member for help with something as basic as repositioning.
Parents aren’t allowed in the MRI area, so when an ICU team transported AJ there, I stayed behind. Our nurse, along with a respiratory therapist and some support staff, pushed AJ’s stretcher away in a flurry of whirring and beeping and left me alone with my thoughts and an empty hospital bed.
They hadn’t been gone for more than a couple of minutes, when another nurse came in and re-made the bed with fresh sheets and blankets. I could tell that this wasn’t a required duty, and I am certain she was quite busy taking care of her own patients. Even so, she burdened herself with a little more to lighten the load of a friend. She made time to make the bed.
They were backed up in the MRI department, and when our nurse returned with AJ hours later, I knew she wouldn’t be getting home on time. It was well after shift change and the other nurse had left for the day. Our nurse noted the fresh bedding and commented on the kindness of her friend.
That is the kind of friend I want to be. The kind who makes the bed in your absence. The one who holds down the fort when you’re away.
I have a friend like this. Her name is Shannon, and she’s been the teacher next door for the last four and a half years. We didn’t know each other in high school, and we don’t do vacations together (unless teacher conferences count, ha!). Sometimes we eat lunch together, and sometimes we don’t. (When we don’t, it’s usually my workaholic self’s fault.)
We do share ideas, laugh at student antics, meet in the hallway when we can, feel at home in each others’ classrooms, and make the occasional TikTok video. (She’s way cooler than me, and I usually make a fool of myself. But we have fun!) Shannon makes my school days brighter, and I am a better teacher because of her.
Honestly, I have many friends and family members who I cherish deeply. Each one deserves my gratitude, and the people and reasons are too numerous to list here. So many are praying and giving and loving on my family, even now. God has been so good to me.
I do believe it’s worth stopping to acknowledge the beauty of one person’s sacrifice on behalf of another. It is unconditional love and extravagant kindness poured out without reserve. Shannon has done this for me again and again.
In the early days of getting to know one another, she guessed that I was pregnant with AJ before I realized it myself. When it was time for maternity leave, Shannon kept things running smoothly in our grade level. She offered solutions before I saw a need for them.
I’ve lost count of how many times I have left unexpectedly for the hospital with Olivia or AJ. Each time, she was there with a hug and a directive, “Let me help you!” If I demurred, she insisted. Shannon has this way of knowing exactly what is needed. She helps in a way that calms the chaos instead of creating more. What a gift.
When Olivia died, Shannon came quickly. I didn’t care that she didn’t know what to say. I felt her heart.
That is the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy has a way of making you feel alone–as if someone is looking in on you and your pain from the outside. Empathy crawls into painful places and hurts with you there.
Shannon came inside my grief bubble on that first day, and she hasn’t left me since. It’s not all sadness and tears. She makes me laugh, and I love that about her. But on the hard days, when I can’t quite hold the tears back, I know where to go. And she cries too.
For years, I have done my best to keep my “work world” intact, even when my family life is in crisis. I make detailed substitute plans and send emails, because these are concrete items I can check off a list. It’s the something I can do when an emergency situation has deprived me of most other forms of control.
This time, AJ quit breathing and went into cardiac arrest. It has only been eight months since Olivia went to Heaven, and my mind just refused to perform. Like AJ on a ventilator, I required extra pairs of hands for even the simple stuff. I couldn’t have typed a set of sub plans if I had wanted to.
I didn’t need to, because Shannon took care of it. I’m writing this from the ICU, where AJ is breathing on his own without a ventilator or oxygen support. He’ll probably be transferred to a regular room tomorrow, where another clean bed will be waiting. (Praise our God who still does miracles! I’ll write more on this later.)
Back home, my classes are receiving well-planned lessons. Shannon made sure of that. The two of us are close enough that I know how much she has on her own plate. I see the sacrifice she’s making to take on work that is not her own. I’m almost certain there is more that she’s done in my absence–things I may never know about. Willingly, she’s burdened herself in order to make my load lighter.
I accidentally lost some important paperwork. Shannon’s got it covered. My girls get out of school before Gammie gets off work. She’s got that too. Their homework is done. Their report cards are signed. And still she asks, “Is there anything I can do?”
In a million years, I could not repay my precious friend for all she’s done for me. I am like the homeless person who is taken out for a lavish meal. I can’t possibly reciprocate.
And yet, I don’t have the feeling that she expects me to. She just loves–big and loud and free. And without fanfare.
That’s the kind of friend I want to be.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”–Galatians 6:2